THE world has finally woken up to the tragedy that is befalling the Amazon rainforest, with record numbers of fires burning up the source of much of the world’s oxygen. International leaders and environment campaigners have declared the emergency as a top priority for action. The only problem is that the President of Brazil doesn’t even acknowledge that it is a problem with global consequences.

Official figures from the Brazilian space agency recorded more than 75,000 forest fires in the first eight months of the year, which compares with 40,000 in the same period last year. While forest fires are a common occurrence in Brazil during the dry season, the current scale of the fires is causing huge concern in Brazil and around the world.

Smoke from hundreds of blazes are even visible from space and can be tracked across the Amazon region and neighbouring countries. Skies have even darkened above Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest city, 3,000km away. The fires are leading to a massive release of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere across the continent. The EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service has released maps showing the emissions trailing across South America from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic.

This is of huge concern for the biodiversity of the Amazon basin, its one million indigenous inhabitants and for everyone else in Brazil and the rest of the world who cares about the impact on the region and on global warming. In a nutshell, the felling or burning of trees in the rainforest releases the carbon they are storing and reduces the capacity of the rainforest to soak up carbon emissions.

Deforestation in the Amazon has been causing concern for years, with legal and illegal logging clearing massive amounts of the rainforest. According to the Brazilian Space Agency deforestation was 278% higher in July 2019 than in the previous year. They say that more than one and a half football fields of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed every minute of every day.

All of this is bad enough, except that Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro is in denial about the problem, and stands accused of promoting deforestation and relaxing environmental restrictions.

Worse than that, his reaction to the scale of the warnings has been to sack the head of the Brazilian Space Agency which published the satellite data calling them “lies”.

This week he took aim at the non-government organisations that have been highlighting the scale of the problem, even suggesting that they were starting the fires. “Maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing,” he said.

Meanwhile on the diplomatic front, a host of countries have followed the lead of French President Emanuel Macron in calling for action. Last night Macron tweeted: “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire.”

The issue is now set to be discussed at this weekend’s G7 Summit in Biariritz, with calls for concrete action.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has joined Mr Macron in threatening to veto a trade deal between the European Union and the South American trading block MERCOSUR unless Brazil takes action. Bolsanaro has hit back suggesting that these proposals are “reminiscent of a colonial mindset”.

However Bolsonaro is in a difficult position having made a series of commitments on climate and biodiversity at the G20 Osaka Summit held in June, which President Macron insisted were a precondition of any trade deal with the EU. The deal which has been 20 years in the making has been described as the EU’s biggest to date. If it came into force it would cut or remove trade tariffs on both sides.

The Mercosur states of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay would find it easier to export farm products, including beef, sugar, and poultry to the EU, while EU firms that make industrial products and cars would have easier access to Mercosur.

In this, Brexit Britain finds itself on the sidelines. With a No-Deal Brexit and leaving the customs union pending, the UK will not enjoy the benefits of the trade deal with MERCOSUR, or be able to exercise pressure like Ireland and France, by denying its progress until Brazil lives up to its commitments.

Let’s hope that the international community and campaigners in Brazil are successful in pressuring the government there into action. One positive contribution from the international community might be assistance with fire fighting efforts and equipment.

This is a global problem that requires a global solution. We should be happy to help and do so quickly.